JERUSALEM — Sixty years after jumping off a bridge to his death, the last descendant of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, was buried Wednesday in a Jerusalem cemetery bearing his grandfather’s name _ bringing an end to a torturous family saga and finally fulfilling Herzl’s century-old will.
Herzl’s son also committed suicide. He had a daughter who was mentally ill and another who was killed in the Holocaust. In the past year, three of the founder’s four descendants have been buried in Israel _ no easy task because of rabbinical injunctions against Jewish burials for those who have killed themselves or converted to other religions.
Stephen Theodore Norman’s remains were exhumed Thursday in Washington, D.C., where he was buried in the cemetery of the Adas Israel congregation after his death in 1946.
On Wednesday he was reburied near his grandfather on a warm, cloudless afternoon, with hundreds of dignitaries and distant Herzl relatives in attendance.
“His vision was realized, and now there is an exemplary nation,” said Liora Herzl, the great-granddaughter of Herzl’s cousin. But she noted that Zionism’s founder left behind a broken, cash-strapped family. “He was completely consumed with his commitment to the Zionist idea, and his family ultimately paid the price for that.”
Norman was the lone family member committed to Herzl’s Zionist cause. He read about his grandfather’s work and was active in his movement.
His parents sent him from Austria to an English boarding school just before World War II to escape the Nazi threat. There he anglicized his name from Neumann to Norman to avoid anti-Semitism and joined the British army, serving as an officer during the war.
In 1945, he made a short visit to Palestine and was deeply impressed by the emerging society envisioned by his grandfather, writing that the Jewish children “bore the mark of freedom.”
The following year, while serving as an attache at the British Embassy in Washington, he learned about the deaths of his parents during the Holocaust and committed suicide. He was 28.
Herzl, a European journalist and author, was deeply affected by the Dreyfus Affair in 1895, when a Jewish military officer in France was wrongly convicted of espionage. Herzl felt the scandal was driven by bitter anti-Semitism and concluded that Jews needed a nation of their own.
The following year, he published his central work, “The Jewish State.” He later founded the World Zionist Organization, which spearheaded Israel’s establishment.
Herzl, who died in 1904 at age 44, was buried in Vienna, Austria, but specified in his will that he wanted his body, and those of his immediate relatives, moved to the Jewish state he hoped would one day be created.
In 1949, a year after Israel’s independence, Herzl’s body was brought to Jerusalem and buried in the Mount Herzl Cemetery, which later became the final resting place of Israel’s leaders and war heroes. The bodies of Herzl’s parents and sister were brought soon after, and last year the bodies of two of his children, Pauline and Hans, joined them in Jerusalem. Pauline suffered from mental illness and died in 1930, apparently of a morphine overdose, and Hans committed suicide when he learned of her death.
Jewish prohibitions against suicide, plus Hans’ conversion to Christianity, initially deterred rabbinic authorities from allowing the bodies of Herzl’s children to be buried in Israel, and the idea was shelved in the 1950s. Ultimately, Shlomo Amar, one of Israel’s chief rabbis, issued a religious ruling allowing for the reburial of Hans and, later, Norman.
Herzl’s wife, Julie, did not share her husband’s Zionist fervor and was not included in his will. She died in 1907, was cremated, and the location of her ashes are unknown.
Norman’s mother, Trude Neumann, died at age 50 at the Terezein concentration camp in what was then Czechoslovakia. Norman was her only son.
Herzl historian Ariel Feldestein, of the Sapir college in southern Israel, said Herzl’s complete devotion to his Zionist dream took a heavy toll on his family. He said securing Wednesday’s funeral marked Israel’s final “moral obligation” to Herzl.
“He (Norman) was the last descendent. There are no more Herzls,” he said.
A century after his death, Herzl’s public legacy looms large in Israel. National monuments, countless roads and even a city _ Herzliya _ bear his name.
“It is not often you can carry out historic, Jewish and Zionist justice. Today we did,” said Zeev Bielski, chairman of the Jewish Agency, a quasi-governmental body that deals with the Jewish Diaspora. “He dedicated his entire life to the Zionist idea. He sacrificed for us, and today we are doing this for him.”